Addressing the Cultural Challenges of Firearm Restriction in Suicide Prevention: A Test of Public Health Messaging to Protect Those at Risk

Arch Suicide Res. 2018 Jul-Sep;22(3):394-404. doi: 10.1080/13811118.2017.1355285. Epub 2017 Dec 1.


Objectives: Reducing access to firearms as a suicide prevention strategy is limited in the US today because of divergent cultural attitudes and political contentiousness surrounding gun restrictions. This research examined the effects of culturally-specific suicide prevention messages on the likelihood of restricting firearm access during periods of suicide risk.

Methods: Focus groups and key informant interviews were conducted with rural gun owners in order to develop a suicide prevention message that highlighted the importance of restricting access to firearms during periods of risk without threatening second amendment concerns. The effectiveness of this gun culture message, relative to standard suicide prevention messaging and a control condition, was then tested with a national sample of gun owners.

Results: Relative to all other conditions, respondents who received our culturally-specific message in conjunction with standard suicide prevention content reported the greatest likelihood of taking steps to restrict access to firearms. This tendency was enhanced for individuals who were more politically conservative, lived in more rural areas, and supported gun rights to a stronger degree.

Conclusions: Findings underscore the importance of attending to cultural factors in public health messaging. Messaging that respects the values of gun owners could hold promise in promoting firearm restriction for suicide prevention.

Keywords: culture; firearms; health promotion; public health messaging; suicide prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Civil Rights
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Firearms / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Health
  • Qualitative Research
  • Suicide Prevention*
  • United States